Perez de Cuellar's Legacy at the UN

His diplomatic accomplishments were brilliant, but his administrative abilities were lackluster

AT the end of 10 years at the helm of the United Nations, former Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar left behind a mixed legacy: renewed confidence in the world body, but also administrative disarray and low staff morale.

On the plus side, Mr. Perez de Cuellar made impressive progress in the diplomatic field, putting the once-discredited UN back on its feet and earning it new prestige.

Observers are unanimous in crediting the Peruvian-born diplomat with a radical turnaround in the way the international organization is perceived around the world.

Among the most-cited of his accomplishments: the peace agreement to stop the Iran-Iraq war; the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan and of Cuban troops from Angola; the negotiation of independence for Namibia.

In Latin America, an area close to his heart and roots, his feats have been major and varied. His efforts ended the Nicaraguan civil war between the United States-backed contras and the Sandinistas, leading to the formation of a United Nations Observer Group, known as ONUCA, which later became the model for the United Nations Observer Mission in El Salvador (ONUSAL).

His good offices put the Salvadoran government and the guerrillas of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), once irreconcilable enemies, at the negotiating table.

Eventually, the talks he brokered led to a peace accord. Less successfully, he brought Guatemala's top Army officers and guerrilla commanders together for the first time in three decades.

Perez de Cuellar or his representatives worked equally hard to achieve peace in other parts of the world: Korea, Cambodia, Western Sahara, Lebanon, and Yugoslavia, to name some.

In addition, the UN supervised elections in Haiti, Nicaragua, and Namibia, among other places.

It provided logistic support for countries willing to make the transition toward democracy. Increasingly trusted as a go-between, the UN now stands as a respected forum for peace, development, and negotiation - thanks in large part to Perez de Cuellar.

In 1988, the UN's famous "blue helmets," the peacekeeping forces financed by the international community, were granted the Nobel Peace Prize for their outstanding contribution in maintaining a delicate balance in many turbulent areas of the world.

Perez de Cuellar himself is now deemed a strong candidate for the prize, which he may receive in late 1992, long after transferring power to his successor, Egyptian-born Boutros Boutros Ghali.

On the minus side of the ledger, however, analysts list down Perez de Cuellar's inability to cope with an increasingly difficult financial situation and to revamp the world organization's bloated bureaucracy.

As the UN's new duties grew, he found himself besieged by administrative problems he could not solve.

Early in his tenure, the untimely death of a top aide, Emilio Olivares, a sort of wizard of paperwork within the organization, may have contributed to administrative disarray, say some sources.

BUT other analysts blame the US and Great Britain for their relentless pressure to reorganize the UN. The Reagan administration's refusal to pay dues unless reforms were made gave an excuse to other countries - 95 of them by the latest count - to worsen their own arrears situation and gradually lead the UN to the verge of insolvency.

Shortly before leaving office, in a somber report to the General Assembly, Perez de Cuellar bitterly complained that the situation had "deteriorated to the point of crisis."

So much so that, as of Oct. 31, 1991, unpaid contributions to the regular budget totaled $524.6 million, and unpaid contributions to peacekeeping operations reached $463.5 million, excluding the Gulf war and the advance Cambodia mission, he said.

The largest debtors were, ironically, the US, the Soviet Union, and South Africa, all of which had substantially benefited from the UN's expanded role.

Some inside sources claim that Perez de Cuellar's departure may be a blessing in disguise. Staffers, for one, were far from happy with his tenure, although disagreement never reached the point of serious confrontation.

But even Secretariat News, a newsletter put out by the UN Department of Public Information, seemed to admit the validity of some complaints. In its November issue, it published an item in which Ron Hewson, head of the Staff Committee, the employees' union, claimed that "morale is at its lowest ebb ever" throughout the UN bureaucracy.

Yet, Perez de Cuellar was given a standing ovation by the General Assembly at the close of its current session as part of a short but very emotional farewell ceremony.

Afterward, a Latin American diplomat mused that the outgoing UN chief "can now go back to some of his great passions - music, especially opera, and paintings. He was, after all, the most highly cultivated secretary-general this organization had in years." Nobody doubts that.

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